« PreviousContinue »
all, if we be not allowed to change the present reading, which is undoubtedly retained by a great plurality of copies, may not the passage in the history be considered as describing only the effects of St Paul's discourses during the three sabbath days in which he preached in the synagogue ? and may it not be true, as we have remarked above, that his application to the Gentiles at large, and his success amongst them, was posteriour to this?
THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS.
It may seem odd to allege obscurity itself as an argument, or to draw a proof in favour of a writing, from that which is usually considered as the principal defect in its composition. The present epistle, however, furnishes a passage, hitherto unexplained, and probably inexplicable by us, the existence of which, under the darkness and difficulties that attend it, can be accounted for only upon the supposition of the epistle being genuine; and upon that supposition is accounted for with great ease. The passage which I allude to is found in the second chapter : "That day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, WHEN I WAS YET WITH YOU, I TOLD
I YOU THESE THINGS? And now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time; for the mystery of iniquity doth already work, only he that now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way; and then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming. It were superfluous to prove, because it is in vain to de
ny, that this passage is involved in great obscurity, more especially the clauses distinguished by Italics. Now the observation I have to offer is founded upon this, that the passage expressly refers to a conversation which the author had previously holden with the Thessalonians upon the same subject : 'Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things ? And now ye know what withholdeth. If such conversation actually passed ; if, 'whilst he was yet with them, he told them those things, then it follows that the epistle is authentic. And of the reality of this conversation it appears to be a proof, that what is said in the epistle might be understood by those who had been present to such conversation, and yet be incapable of being explained by any other. No man writes unintelligibly on purpose. But it may easily happen, that a part of a letter which relates to a subject, upon which the parties had conversed together before, which refers to what had been before said, which is in truth a portion or continuation of a former discourse, may be utterly without meaning to a stranger who should pick up the letter upon the road, and yet be perfectly clear to the person to whom it is directed, and with whom the previous communication had passed. And if, in a letter which thus accidentally fell into my hands, I found a passage expressly referring to a former conversation, and difficult to be explained without knowing that conversation, I should consider this very difficulty as a proof that the conversation had actually passed, and consequently that the letter contained the real correspondence of real persons.
Chap. iii. 8. Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought, but wrought with labour night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you : nut because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow.'
In a letter, purpurting to have been written to another of the Macedonian churches, we find the following declaration :
Now, ye Philippians, know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.'
The conformity between these two passages is strong and plain. They confine the transaction to the same period.
The epistle to the Philippians refers to what passed in the beginning of the gospel,' that is to say, during the first preaching of the gospel on that side of the Ægean sea. The epistle to the Thessalonians speaks of the apostle's conduct in that city upon ‘his first entrance in unto them,' which the history informs us was in the course of his first visit to the peninsula of Greece.
As St Paul tells the Philippians, 'that no church communicated with him, as concerning giving and receiving, but they only,' he could not, consistently with the truth of this declaration, have received any thing from the neighbouring church of Thessalonica. What thus appears by general implication in an epistle to another church, when he writes to the Thessalonians themselves, is noticed expressly and particularly: "neither did we eat any man's bread for nought, but wrought night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you.'
The texts here cited further also exhibit a mark of conformity with what St Paul is made to say of himself in the Acts of the Apostles. The apostle not only reminds the Thessalonians that he had not been chargeable to any of them, but he states likewise the motive which dictated this reserve: 'not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.' (ch. iii. 9.) This conduct and, what is much more precise, the end which he had in view by it, was the very same as that which the history attributes to St Paul in a discourse, which it represents him to have addressed to the elders of the church of Ephesus: 'Yea, ye yourselves also know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak.' Acts, ch. xx. 34. The sentiment in the epistle and in the speech is in both parts of it so much alike, and yet the words which convey it show so little of imitation or even of resemblance, that the agreement cannot well be explained without supposing the speech and the letter to have really proceedod from the same person.
Our reader remembers the passage in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, in which St Paul spoke of the coming of Christ: This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that
we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep; for the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, and so shall we be ever with the Lord.—But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.? 1 Thess. iv. 15–17, and ch. v. 4. It should seem that the Thessalonians, or some however amongst them, had from this passage conceived an opinion (and that not very unnaturally) that the coming of Christ was to take place instantly, oti svetuxkY ;* and that this persuasion had produced, as it well might, much agitation in the church. The apostle therefore now writes, amongst other purposes, to quiet this alarm, and to rectify the misconstruction that had been put upon his words : 'Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. If the allusion which we contend for be admitted, namely, if it be admitted, that the passage in the second epistle relates to the passage in the first, it amounts to a considerable proof of the genuineness of both epistles. I have no conception, because I know no example, of such a device in a forgery, as first to frame an ambiguous passage in a letter, then to represent the persons to whom the letter is addressed as mistaking the meaning of the passage, and lastly, to write a second letter in order to correct this mistake.
I have said that this argument arises out of the text, if the allusion be admitted: for I am not ignorant that many expositors understand the passage in the second epistle, as referring to some forged letters, which had been produced in St Paul's name, and in which the apostle had been made to say that the coming of Christ was then at hand. In defence, however, of the explanation which we propose, the reader is desired to observe,
1. The strong fact, that there exists a passage in the first epistle, to which that in the second is capable of being referred, i. e. which accounts for the errour the writer is solicitious to
* 'OTI EVESTNKEY, nempe hoc anno, says Grotius, svátnxev hic dicitur de re præsenti, ut Rom. viii. 38. 1 Cor. üi. 22, Gal. i. 4. Heb .ix. 9.
THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS,
Had no other epistle than the second been extant, and had it under these circumstances come to be considered, whether the text before us related to a forged epistle or to some misconstruction of a true one, many conjectures and many probabilities might have been admitted in the inquiry, which can have little weight when an epistle is produced, containing the very sort of passage we were seeking, that is, a passage liable to the misinterpretation which the apostle protests against.
2. That the clause which introduces the passage in the second epistle bears a particular affinity to what is found in the passage cited from the first epistle. The clause is this: We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him. Now in the first epistle the description of the coming of Christ is accompanied with the mention of this very circumstance of his saints - being collected round him.' "The Lord himself shall descend from from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. 1 Thess. chap. iv. 16, 17. This I suppose to be the gathering together unto him intended in the second epistle; and that the author, when he used these words, retained in his thoughts what he had written on the subject before.
3. The second epistle is written in the joint name of Paul, Salvanus, and Timotheus, and it cautions the Thessalonians against being misled by letter as from us? (ds de nico). Do
Ꭰ not these words 's specov,' appropriate the reference to some writing which bore the name of these three teachers ? Now this circumstance, which is a very close one, belongs to the epistle at present in our hands; for the epistle which we call the First Epistle to the Thessalonians contains these names in its superscription.
4. The words in the original, as far as they are material to be stated, are these : ως το μη ταχεως σαλευθηναι υμας απο τε νοος, μητε θροεισθαι, μητε δια πνευματος, μήτε δια λογα, μητε δι επιστολης, ως δι' ημων, ως οτι ενέστηκεν η ημερα τα Χριστε. Under the weight of the preceding observations may not the words μητε δια λογα, μήτε δι' επιστολης, ως di specov, be construed to signify quasi nos quid tale aut dixerimus aut scripserimus,* intimating that their words had
* Should a contrary interpretation be preferred, I do not think that it implies the conclusion that a false epistle had then been published in the apostle's name. It